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LETTERS: What about our roads?

Saturday 23 April 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Opinion


LETTERS: What about our roads?

Dear Editor, it has been some time now since I have written an editorial to the paper, and it is because I generally like to take action directly with entities who can assist when I have a community issue to resolve.

This issue I raise, however, has been a longstanding one and perhaps beyond what I can achieve at present because of other factors: the sealing of the Avatiu Valley Rd which has been in a degraded state for the past decade. 

Therefore, I have chosen this platform now to raise this issue in hopes we can be more educated and aware how our internal systems work, and how we can and should do better as voters and residents of our community in questioning the status quo. 

Of note, I am a landowner, resident, and teacher of students in a building adjacent to this road. 

It is no secret that for all too long in our political history of the Cook Islands, road sealing has been used as a means to get political points and voters. 

My personal opinion is that politicians should stay out of the planning of road improvements and let the Ministry of Infrastructure do their job.

In October 2016, a tender was put out for a contractor to improve the roads in Takuvaine and Avatiu (Contract No. C16 – 12). In this plan, several sections of road in Takuvaine/Tutakimoa and Ruatonga/Avatiu were to be sealed. 

In this plan, the majority of the roads to be sealed were within the constituency of the Prime Minister in Takuvaine/Tutakimoa, and only two stretches of roads were within Avatiu/Ruatonga. 

I must also add, they were sealed using the more expensive process – hot-mix – as opposed to the normal chip seal we find on most of our roads in the island.  When you look at these roads sealed in the above-mentioned areas today, they are not the most frequently used roads, and clearly have been sealed to satisfy voters. 

For example, there is the stretch of road that runs from the Foodland to the Tutakimoa road, and also the stretch from the Empire Theatre to the Takuvaine back road. 

In Avatiu/Ruatonga, you have the road from the Ruatonga meeting house to the Ruatonga back road, and the stretch from the Avatiu Meeting house to the Avatiu netball courts.

I believe the last time the Avatiu Valley road was sealed may have been more than ten years ago. 

Residents in this valley can confirm that they have endured the roughest of road conditions over the years, the associated toll on their vehicles, the health risk from the road dust, and the numerous potholes you have to dodge.  It really gives you that sense of abandonment as a community in this country.

Let us compare and contrast the Valley road between Avatiu and Takuvaine (which was improved with the most expensive hotmix seal in 2016):  they are comparable in distance (~ 2km), the number of residential dwellings, and both have water intakes at the end, but incomparable in terms of use. 

The Avatiu Valley road is the busiest of all valley roads in the Cook Islands. 

Besides the residents in this valley, the islands’ power station is located here.  There are heavy machinery businesses and tour operators also using this road as well with no benefit to the landowners where most of this road is. 

For example, Triad’s large fuel trucks use this road twice daily to fill generators at the power station, and daily you find tourists using this road to explore the most popular mountain track in the Cook Islands. 

In comparison to the Takuvaine Valley Road, and any other road in this country, this road is a major infrastructure and contributor to the economic development of the Cook Islands.

Yet, this road has sat in a poor state of despair for many years with superficial fixes now and then when residents start rabble rousing to ICI.

The most recent water project completed in 2020 has also delayed the sealing of this road.  It has been two years now after project completion, and I have made several phone calls to ICI since 2021 to enquire about the sealing of our roads due to health risks of dust to residents and students I teach in the building adjacent to this 2-km road.

 My latest phone call was with the HOM, and I was told that the people in charge of the sealing project would get back to me.  To this day, I have not heard back from them.      

The only good news I can see for Avatiu residents is that in this election year, we may finally see some action taken to have our road properly sealed. 

Given the importance of RAPPA in the upcoming elections for Government to retain the seat, it may even be of the hotmix version.  I ask our people living not only in this constituency, but in every island in the Cook Islands, to not be jaded by the utilization of projects and road sealing and tree cutting and hedge trimming etc. to buy your vote in an election year.  Look beyond this to the quality of your candidates as we need good people in government on both sides.  We ask our people to walk the talk all the time, and so it may be that I put my hand up again for the next election so we can see some meaningful change to the way our nation is governed. 

Teina Rongo

Infrastructure Cook Islands secretary Tamarii Tutangata responds

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the matters raised in Dr Teina Rongo’s letter.

Infrastructure Cook Islands welcomes the opportunity to clarify relevant aspects of the methodology applied by us in implementing infrastructure projects in all our islands.

Methodologies that embrace and comply with established government policies.

Dr Rongo notes potential concerns regarding political influence on prioritising infrastructure projects and the requirement of different road surface finishes on some of our more recently completed roads.

ICI’s methodology in determining the prioritising of repairs, maintenance and reconstruction or improvement of its assets is based on studies and tests undertaken by local and international engineers and contractors.

This is then developed into a forward works plan which, in turn is directly linked to the National Infrastructure Investment Plan (NIIP).

As with all other government national policy documents, the NIIP is finally approved by Cabinet following comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders including the private sector.

ICI also applies due consideration to the required maintenance and replacement of the assets of other service providers such as TAU, Vodafone and To Tatou Vai (TTV) and whether their requirements will affect ICI’s assets.

Coordination efforts to ensure each infrastructure manager and/or service provider’s assets necessary upgrades do not cause damage to each other’s installed infrastructure are also in place through a coordination group of asset managers from relevant agencies.

ICI provides secretariat services.

From time to time, such coordination efforts have required the delayed implementation and reprioritisation of our road work plans to allow other infrastructure managers to complete their necessary works prior to our work being undertaken.

This is the case with Avatiu Valley Road.

Infrastructure Cook Islands is scheduled to undertake this work within this financial year.

It was determined that the water main would need replacing and the alignment is within the road corridor along this road.

The road works contract has already been awarded and is anticipated to start within the next two weeks.

The road surface from the intersection on the backroad to the power plant will be hot mix having regard to the heavy vehicles travelling along that stretch of road, with the remaining section of road surface being chip seal.

The works will also include roadside drainage to enhance the life expectancy of the road.

We acknowledge the accuracy of Mr Rongo’s comments regarding the cost of chip seal surfacing being cheaper than hot mix.

We also note that hot mix has a longer design life and require less maintenance thus rendering the cost vs value more favourable.

As per government’s original stated policy for roads, it is Infrastructure Cook Islands aim for the main ring road around Rarotonga to have a hot mix surface due to its ability to withstand the increased number of vehicles on the roads.

Hot mix will also be applied to other parts of the road network as required and as provided through our budget appropriations.

With respect to the Takuvaine roads, whilst I wasn’t at ICI at the time, I understand that in 2015 when planning started for the upgrading of those roads, the rationale used at the time was that was hot mix lasts much longer than chip seal and presented better cost benefit value.  As we can see those roads are in excellent condition after seven years.

Should Dr Rongo or others require additional information, we, in ICI are available to provide what we can either through meetings or via email.

Yours faithfully,

Tamarii Tutangata